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More on the Kohanim DNA Question

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Dr. Michael Hammer

Dr. Michael Hammer

Thank You for the Confusion

The following was taken from a recent press release by the man that has made Kohanim DNA available, Dr. Michael Hammer. As mentioned in my previous article, there is now a see-saw battle raging between distinct and separate groups of Kohanim, claiming that they are the true descendants of Aaron and the others are for lack of a better word, 'fakes.' I would like to restore some sanity to this argument since as I indicated, they are either all wrong, or they are all right. In this respect I think it is both possibilites that are correct. Wrong and Right simultaneously.

But first let's see what Dr. Hammer has to say about this dilemma that he has created with his research.

New Genetic Research Indicates Jewish Priesthood Has Multiple Lineages

Michael F. Hammer

UA geneticist Michael Hammer and his colleages used a larger number of DNA markers to trace the ancient bloodline to more than one source.

By University Communications September 16, 2009

Recent research on the Cohen Y chromosome indicates the Jewish priesthood, the Cohanim, was established by several unrelated male lines rather than a single male lineage dating to ancient Hebrew times.

The new research builds on a decade-old study of the Jewish priesthood that traced its patrilineal dynasty and seemed to substantiate the biblical story that Aaron, the first high priest (and brother of Moses), was one of a number of common male ancestors in the Cohanim lineage who lived some 3,200 years ago in the Near East.

The current study was conducted by Michael F. Hammer, a population geneticist in the Arizona Research Laboratory's Division of Biotechnology at the University of Arizona. Hammer's collaborators in the study include Karl Skorecki of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Rambum Medical Center in Haifa and colleagues and collaborating scientists from Tel Aviv University and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The July 2009 issue of Human Genetics has published the Hammer team's newest findings in their aritcle entitled "Extended Y chromosome haplotypes resolve multiple and unique lineages of the Jewish priesthood."

Hammer and Skorecki were part of the first research group 10 years ago that found the DNA marker signature of the Cohanim, termed the Cohen Modal Haplotype. Today, Hammer and his colleagues are able to use a much larger battery of DNA markers and consequently able to develop a more fully resolved Cohen Modal Haplotype called the extended Cohen Modal Haplotype. The smaller number of markers used in the original Cohanim studies did not allow for full resolution of the history of the Jewish priesthood.

"These findings should motivate renewed interest in historical reconstructions of the Jewish priesthood as well as additional high resolution DNA marker analyses of other populations and ‘lost tribes' claiming ancient Hebrew ancestry," Hammer said.

Using the new data, Hammer and his team were able to pinpoint the geographic distribution of a genetically more resolved Cohen Modal Haplotype and tease apart a multiplicity of male lines that founded the priesthood in ancient Hebrew times. The more fully resolved Cohen Modal haplotype (called the extended Cohen Modal Haplotype) accounts for almost 30 percent of Cohanim Y chromosomes from both Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Jewish communities, is virtually absent in non-Jews, and likely traces to a common male ancestor that lived some 3,200 years ago in the Near East.

Additional Y chromosome lineages that are distinct from that defined by the extended Cohen Modal Haplotype, but also shared among Cohanim from different Jewish communities, reveal that the priesthood was established by several unrelated male lines.

The Hammer Lab is in ARL's Division of Biotechnology and is devoted to better understanding the genomic and evolutionary factors shaping patterns of human variation and to testing models of human origins.

The Division of Biotechnology provides investigators and students with state-of-the-art facilities necessary to carry out leading-edge biological, chemical and engineering research. It specializes in providing high-end equipment that is difficult for individual investigators to afford and advanced technical assistance in the application of this equipment and other modern analytical methods.

ARL is a group of researchers at the UA engaged in solving critical scientific problems and generating knowledge for the future. The organization's structure and values promote innovation through dynamic interdisciplinary collaborations. ARL has been a leader in interdisciplinary science and research for almost 30 years.

Thankyou Dr. Hammer

So what does this all mean?  The significance is Torah shattering actually for those that have maintained the absolute literal belief in the Old Testament.  This is what the Kohanim Modality gene has done:

1. Of all those with legitimate claims to be Kohanim, only 30% belong to a common ancestor. This is down from the previous 50%.

2. Of the 70% that don't come from the same genetic ancestor, they have common links and also legitimate claims to be descended from a single ancestor that served as a Kohan, just not the same one as the first group.

3. There is genetic evidence that Aaron was not alone as the progenitor of Kohanim.  There were others that served in the position and therefore have passed on a genetic line with as legitimate a claim but just lesser numbers.

4. The bibilical presentation is either not accurate, not complete, or misinterpreted.

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5. We have to rethink the biblical relationships between Moses, Aaron, and the Korahites.

Resolving the Conflicts

As I had mentioned, the use of DNA for identification of Kohanim, although some may have perceived it as a good idea was ultimately going to end up as a disaster when it was finally understood. But only a disaster that saw the Torah as immutable, literal in every word, and therefore not subject to individual interpretation as Anan ben David had advised. This is a very different concept from Talmudic interpretation of the Rabbanites where they easily alter the meaning completely for the original intent to suit their own ends. Anan was talking about something much simpler; the implied nuances of words, the slightly obtuse meaning that still does not veer sharply from the intent. Such a case I raised in my article, in which I raise the possibility of a second line of Kohanim; those being the descendants of Moses.

Of course the argument of the J1e Kohanim would be that there could be no difference in the Y haploid groups between two brothers, but then that raises the question of half-brothers, step-brothers and the likes. For no place in the Torah does it insist that Moses and Aaron were full brothers. For those now shouting up and down, "Yes it does, yes it does," I'll remind you of something I wrote in that other article which went: "We are given a brief glimpse of what my have been it it wasn't for the fact that Numbers 3:1 got edited. It opens with saying that 'These are the generations of Aaron and Moses...' with Sentences 2 through 39 providing the details of Aaron's sons and their official positions as well as all the other Levites and how they would officiate under Aaron's sons. But any record of Moses's sons is completely eliminated which in respect of the first sentence we know that at some point in time these details were present." That in itself should immediately send off alarm bells that there is another lineage of priests being completely ignored. But that shouldn't surprise us because in Exodus 2:1 it tells us that there was a man from the tribe of Levi that took a wife from the tribe of Levi. It is apparent that marriage amongst the Levites was already a recognized policy as they maintained a distinct gene pool. This being the case, the genetic aging for any haplotype traced back to Aaron should go well beyond his time period but in reality closer to the time of the Patriarch Levi approximately 1750 BCE if these marriage of purity rules were already in place. The other issue we have with the first chapter is that there is no Aaron. The comment is that this couple had a son, not a second son etc; just an older sister that would have escaped the killing of newborn sons. Some will argue he was already a young lad, but the time frame for the kiling of the Israelite children wasn't a day, or a month, it was for years, just as the burden described upon them was for years; no Aaron didn't escape the slaughter, he just wasn't there.  Of course some will argue that this oversight was corrected in Exodus 6:20 but there is a problem with the fluidity of that chapter.  Contextually, it only flows if one jumps from 6:13 directly to 6:27.  The intervening sentences appear to have been taken from somewhere else and inserted into the body of the text. Almost as if they were necessary to explain the comment in Exodus 4:14, where God is not telling but suggesting to Moses that he should view Aaron the Levite as his brother.  How strange to have to remind Moses that Aaron was a Levite, especially if they were truly brothers by having the same parents, but if it was brotherhood through tribal kinship, then that would be a completely different matter and Moses would have to be informed of the bond that existed.  If we overlook the statement in Exodus 6:20 which introduces Amram and Jochebed and instead look at Exodus 15:20, we have a link between Miriam and Aaron, but any connection to Moses is obviously absent.  But the debate to the actual kinship can go on forever as to what does 'brother' actually mean but if we really want to appreciate that the High priesthood did not begin with the exodus but actually predated both Moses and Aaron then we simply have to look at Exodus 19:24 to see that they were already in place prior to receiving the Ten Commandments as God instructs Moses not to let the priests ascend with him. The distinction of the line of Aaron priesthood does not occur until Chapter 28 and then it is evident that the position assigned is Kohanim Gadol or the Chief High Priests.  This being the case then it is perfectly logical that we have Kohans with different genetic haplotypes.  Some will have been from Aaron, others Korahites, and even some possibly from Moses. 

So the question that Dr. Hammer has raised is not whether or not one truly is a Kohan as some of my Kohanim brethren would like to banter about, but accepting that all the various haplotypes are Kohanim but the real question is "Yes, but from which ancestor?"  If we were to apply geometric analysis to the equation then it would say that those with the hightest incidence represent a population derived from a greater pool as compared to that having a lower incidence and therefore a lesser degree of propogation.  In that context, the answers become a lot easier.


Bakbakkar Yehudah on February 11, 2013:

Ha-echud HaKwadosh-Yisrael, El Shaddai, knows the bloodline of Aaron to Zadok and their living descendants in these days abiding across the length and breadth of the earth, and, will reveal their identity for acceptance by humanity, all in good time to come soon enough.

M'halleem Lai-howah!!!!

Kahana (author) on April 18, 2011:

Mordechai, you should mention tht Pinchas was the grandson of Aaron, so that the reader understands that the J2a4h classification in its older genetic appearance is actually suggesting that there was an Aaronic caste followed subsequently by the introduction of another caste or J1e. How was this possible? We only have to read the book of Samuel to see that it was very possible.

Mordechai Cohen on April 18, 2011:

It is useful to remind that:

Dr. Karl Skorecki of the Ramban/Technion Medical Center in Haifa, who is renowned for his discovery in 1997 of the Kohen genetic signature (CMH - J1), reported in 2007 that he and his research team have discovered not one but two Cohen Modal Haplotypes, which he called J1 and J2. "Pinchas, the zealot mentioned in the Bible, may be the origin of J2" he suggested. J2 Cohanim serves as the deep background of the priestly Jewish caste. “The finding of J2 among contemporary Cohanim can lend credence that today’s Cohanim (J1,J2) may be descendents of two different founding dynasties – including coalescence to Pinchas as the founder of J2 Cohanim” concluded Dr. Karl Skorecki.

Marianne Luban on November 19, 2010:

It only takes a one male adopted into a branch of a family to change its y-DNA forever. The Bible gives one reason why it was done: "Now Sheshan had no sons but daughters. And Sheshan had a servant, an Egyptian, whose name was Jarha. So Sheshan gave his daughter to Jarha his servant to wife." I Chronicles 2:34. Sheshan was of the tribe of Judah and the reason he chose a servant for his son-in-law may have been that he knew him well and trusted him and also that Jarha knew how the household and/or livelihood of Sheshan should be run.

However, now at least one potential proto-Jew, as he would be due to having a Jewish mother, now would have the y-DNA of Jarha and an Egyptian haplotype. I know of the mirror image of this having happened in ancient Egypt, where a pharaoh's own barber had no children and therefore married his niece to a captive from Canaan, his own slave. I think such arrangements were not uncommon in antiquity and I can imagine the son of a slave claiming to be a Cohen because that was his grandfather's heritage and an estimable heritage, at that.

In the case of Samaritans, the family called Cohen that has supplied the high priests to the sect for several generations is a different family from that of the high priests who came before. A few centuries ago, that other Cohen family died out and so someone else was drafted to become the next high priest, but that man's DNA did not evidence the Cohen Modal Haplotype--at least that was the case with his descendants when the families of the Samaritans were tested in recent years.

Adam Neira on October 25, 2010:

This is an excellent article and reminds me of my research in 2002. G-d is playing tricks with many Jewish DNA, genealogy, and correct priesthood/hierarchy/chain of command questions in this day and age. However it is possible to make sense of all the jigsaw pieces. I love truth and so articles like this add to my library of data. Well done to Dr.Michael Hammer and the author of this piece.

Genealogy is a fascinating area that I was inspired and compelled to dive into eight years ago. I have spent thousands of dollars and hours on mine. DNA tests are an incredible scientific tool. My particular focus was on Poland. I can trace my lineage back to 1796 and prove Davidic descent. Excellent records were held by Rabbis and Scholars in the Pale of Settlement up until the latter part of the Eighteenth Century at the time of the third partition by Catherine "the Great". (Cecil Roth's book "A Short History of the Jewish People" published in 1937, 436 pages, not that "short", is an excellent study of the chronological linkages.)

At the time of the Third Partition most male Jews knew which tribe they came from. The very proud and faithful Davidic family descendants kept a long and noble tradition of informing the males of their Jewish roots. People knew whether they were Kohanim, Levite or other. Later assimilation by some family members eroded and destroyed many of these memory links. The supernatural elements of the prophecies and the actual importance of the Twelfth Article of Faith were not as well known or understood at the time. The role of the Davidic descendants is often overlooked in Jewish history but that will change. Great jealousies and power plays have been a feature of the Jewish family since the days of Cain and Abel.

"And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots."

Isaiah 11:1

ISHAQ AL-SULAIMANI on July 06, 2010:

There were three divisions of Kohenim families.




You are correct when you stated the following:

"But any record of Moses's sons is completely eliminated which in respect of the first sentence we know that at some point in time these details were present." That in itself should immediately send off alarm bells that there is another lineage of priests being completely ignored."

Moses had studied under the HIGH PRIEST OF MIDIAN

being Jethro and was incorporated into the Order of Melchizedek. Moses' descendants were to serve as:

Priest Kings and Priests of Righteousness.

Remember the Maccabees claiming to be "Priest Kings"

The Jewish community has always struggled with this claim. The Rabbis without any basis have denied the

Priesthood of Moses.

I am glad that you sounded the "ALARM BELLS" on

the obvious missing priesthoods of Moses.

Larry Rynearson on June 22, 2010:

I will have to compare this with the Samaritan Cohens when I have time

alanbedford on June 22, 2010:

Excellent, Kahana, as usual. The existence of multiple ancestors could be because many people today who believe they are of Kohan ancestry maybe never really were. Other than you, and maybe a few others, nobody I know has an authentic genealogy to support their claims to priesthood; it is simply a family tradition without any evidence. So maybe those families are part of the 70% who have no common ancestry with the authentic Kohanim. Now as to Aaron's grave on Mount Horeb, even if a cadaver were to be found, there would be no way of knowng if that body was Aaron's or somebody else's.

Kahana (author) on June 21, 2010:

Don't know if I actually cleared it or made it even more complicated. Reliance on DNA may have a role, but until one day when Aaron's grave is found on Mount Horeb, and someone obtains a sample of his DNA, no one will ever be able to say for certain which test group actually shares his genotype. So to me, the tradition of father telling son through the generations is still the only reliable information that we have.

Margarida Borges from Lyon, France on June 21, 2010:

thanks for clearing the question.

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